Some Parts of Your Brain Are Better Than Others at Handling Sleep Loss

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You know the foggy-mindedness that comes after a bad night’s sleep. After a brief period of sleep deprivation, some of your daily tasks just seem so much harder than they ought to be.

Some tasks, yes. But perhaps not all. An intriguing new study in Science suggests that not all regions of the brain are alike when it comes to sleep loss — some areas seem to be hit harder by drowsiness. Here is the gist, as reported this week by Science News: In a recent experiment, researchers made 33 people stay awake for 42 hours. (Sometimes sleep-deprivation studies just seem like the cruelest studies.) Over that nearly two-day period, the study volunteers carried out a few short assignments intended to test their memory and reaction time; periodically, the researchers took 12 scans of each participant’s brain.

Those scans gave the scientists an insider’s view at what sleep deprivation does to different parts of the brain. Among their findings: Activity in the frontal regions (which is associated with, among other things, motor control) seemed to be especially disrupted by sleep deprivation, Cosmos reports. This squares with another finding from the study — that the sleep-deprived participants were okay at the memory tasks, but faltered on tasks testing their reaction time. It seems every sleep-deprived region of your brain is sleep-deprived in its own way.